The most comprehensive study of water resources ever in the United States is proceeding slowly, according to a U.S. Geological Survey progress report. A substantial amount of new data are required for the project, which will be “an ongoing and continuous activity,” the report states. The most detailed studies, of streamflow ecology, will require most of the next decade in order to classify streams and build databases that can provide the statistical analysis needed by wildlife managers and water managers.
The National Water Census, authorized by Congress in 2009, will assess the quality and quantity of water in the United States and identify long-term trends for both. The census will also tally the amount of water used by sector and evaluate the ecological effects of water withdrawals. Three river basins are being studied in depth: the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint, in the Southeast; the Colorado, in the Southwest; and the Delaware, in the Northeast.
Arkansas Oil Spill
The EPA released more than 100 photos of the subdivision in central Arkansas where Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured at the end of March, spilling at least 5,000 barrels of oil from Canada’s tar sands. The oil blackened yards and pooled in driveways. Some of it ran into a creek that flows into nearby Lake Conway. Exxon and the EPA are managing the clean up together.
Colorado River Forecast
On the heels of a dry winter, the April-July runoff forecast for the nation’s most litigious river basin shows a median of 2.7 million acre feet flowing into Lake Powell, just 38 percent of normal. The runoff forecast dropped by 20 percent in the last month. By this time next year, the second biggest reservoir in the U.S. could drop near record lows.
Fracking Waste by Barge?
Trucks carry wastewater from hydraulic fracturing drill sites to treatment plants or injection wells. Barges may soon be a second option. Reuters reports that agencies within the Obama administration are circulating draft rules to allow the movement of fracking waste along inland waterways.
Klamath River Dams
The Interior Department came out in favor of removing four dams on the Klamath River, a waterway shared by Oregon and California. Removing the dams would help restore salmon fisheries in the basin. Under the proposed plan, all four dams would be taken down by the end of 2020. But first, Congress must authorize the action.
Climate Change and Wildfire
The U.S. Forest Service predicts that the area burned by forest fires each year will double by 2050, according to the Denver Post. Forest fires can make a mess of water quality and water infrastructure, as fires in Colorado last June attest.
Midwest Conservation Area
Two federal agencies are proposing to use payments to landowners, called “conservation easements”, to create a national conservation area in northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota. The plan, which would protect grasslands and wildlife near the Missouri River, is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public comments are being accepted through June 14, via email@example.com.
Colorado Gas Development
The Bureau of Land Management will go through with a full environmental review of a proposed natural gas development in western Colorado. Houston-based SG Interest plans to drill 146 gas wells and four water disposal wells, as well as roads, electric lines and a water pipeline to support the drilling. The BLM is accepting public comments on the scope of the review, via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Energy from Water Pipes
The city of Portland, Oregon has applied to federal regulators for a license to generate electricity from the water flowing through its pipes. The Portland Water Bureau will use a turbine inside a water main to crank out a small amount of electricity – enough for 150 homes, the city estimates.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton